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Christine Brennan and Peter Hakim Talk Brazil Olympics

peter hakim     Christine Brennan

Zika virus. Political chaos and corruption. Economic turmoil. Polluted waterways. And the biggest sports doping scandal of all time.

Against this backdrop, the 2016 Summer Olympic Games will proceed in Brazil, with all eyes on this turbulent country.

But how did Brazil go from boom times to bust? And will the predicted doom and gloom surrounding the Games become reality?

These were the questions tackled in remarks by two speakers for the Oasis program at Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus. Oasis is a non-profit education organization that offers lifelong learning, active lifestyle and volunteer engagement opportunities to adults 50 and older. Classes occasionally meet at the JHU campus in Rockville.

Peter Hakim, president emeritus and a senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue, is an expert on Brazil who has taught at MIT and Columbia University. In his remarks, titled “What’s Gone Wrong in Brazil? Can it be Fixed?” Hakim talked about Brazil’s fast-growing economy, oil discoveries and political strides, and then its spiral downward into poverty, political corruption and scandal. Following Hakim, Christine Brennan, an award-winning national sports columnist for USA Today and commentator for ABC News, CNN, PBS NewsHour and NPR, talked about her disgust over the Russian athletic doping scandal and her optimism the Brazil Olympics will go off relatively glitch free.

Hakim recounted significant events in the past dozen years in Brazil. When the South American country was awarded the Games: “Brazil was going through a great boom. Everything seemed to be going just right for Brazil at the time.”

Brazil, Hakim said, escaped relatively unscathed from the economic turmoil of 2008, and the economy was buoyed by off-shore oil discoveries that would have increased exports. The president was well regarded. And the International Olympic Committee was enthralled with the prospect of situating the Games in South America, where they never had been held before. Brazil, Hakim said, thought of itself as a great nation, a “country of tomorrow.”

Now, the country is in crisis. The economy soured because China shrunk its economic demands of Brazil, and Brazilian economic policies, Hakim said, focused more on spending than frugality. The new president is likely to be impeached, and many other government officials and politicians are embroiled in bribery and kickback scandals. Meanwhile, ISIS has begun issuing statements in Portuguese, which Hakim takes as a worrisome sign.

“No country suffering a worse battering than Brazil has ever put on the Olympics,” Hakim said. “This is a mess. They shouldn’t have gotten into this.”

Brennan, who has covered each of the last 16 Olympic Games, said she has hope for Brazil. She recounted fears surrounding other Games: traffic nightmares in Los Angeles; floods in South Korea; and terrorism in Athens and Sochi. Yet nothing bad happened.

“We had such dire thoughts going into them, and everything turned out great,” Brennan said. “I am so hopeful, fingers crossed, that is the case of Rio too. I hope they can do it.”

Brennan spoke to Oasis students just hours after news broke that the World Anti-Doping Agency found state-sponsored, systemic doping in Russia.

“You’ve got to kick Russia out of the Olympics,” Brennan said. Letting in Russian athletes would “taint the entire Olympic Games.” (Brennan did say individual athletes could try to compete but not under the Russian flag.)

Brennan explained the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency testing program process, where inspectors can show up at athletes’ homes – or wherever else the athlete might be – and request a urine sample. Many top U.S. Olympic athletes want that kind of scrutiny, Brennan said.

“They want clean sport,” Brennan said. “That’s why it’s so disgusting what Russia is doing.”

In addition to discussing the doping scandal, Brennan talked about her love affair with the Olympics and watching the Games on TV as a teen. Her parents encouraged her to play sports at a time when girls typically steered clear of athletics. Her parents also regularly took her to professional and college football games.

Brennan was the first female sports writer at the Miami Herald and the first female to cover Washington’s NFL team as a staff writer for the Washington Post. In July, she was inducted into the Washington DC Sports Hall of Fame.

Brennan talked about her role as a reporter – not a fan – and explained that as a journalist, she maintains her objectivity and does not visibly cheer for athletes and teams. “We’re not cheerleaders,” she said.


What is Oasis?
OASIS is a non-profit educational organization active in more than 50 cities and reaching more than 50,000 individuals each year. Its mission is to promote healthy aging through a three-fold approach: lifelong learning, active lifestyles and volunteer engagement. Classes occasionally are held at the JHU Montgomery County Campus and other locations in Montgomery County. Students sign up for individual classes that meet one time. Students may sign up for multiple classes.

What is Osher?
The mission of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute is to enhance the leisure time of semi-retired and retired individuals. Osher at JHU is a membership community providing a vibrant educational and social environment for mature adults. The Institute offers a rich array of stimulating courses, lectures, and activities, along with opportunities for social interaction during fall and spring semesters.To take courses through Osher at JHU, students become members of the organization. Students sign up for courses that meet weekly throughout the semester. Students may sign up for multiple courses. Courses are held at the JHU Montgomery County Campus and elsewhere in Montgomery County.


CATEGORY: Academics, In The Community